Alan Berliner, this year’s Freedom of Expression Award recipient, is known for creating original, personal and highly inventive documentaries that utilize home movies, found footage and probing interviews. He has mined his family history, from his exotic and mysterious grandfather (Intimate Stranger, SFJFF 1992) to his pugnacious and endearing father (Nobody’s Business, SFJFF 2001). In this new film, the family subject is a bit more distant: his mother’s first cousin, Edwin Honig. Not only was he a mentor to the filmmaker but Honig was an accomplished poet, a literary critic, a noted translator who was knighted by the king of Spain and a professor at Brown University. For the past several years Honig has been living with Alzheimer’s, and Berliner has been chronicling his visits over many years to create a profound study of memory. Their conversations are filled with seemingly unwitting insights, compassion and a strong dose of humor yet the film doesn’t shy way from Honig’s failures, traumas and demons. Berliner’s playful, incisive and provocative style produce sublime moments, such as when he asks his cousin if there is anything he would like to tell the viewers, and Honig responds, “Remember how to forget . . . no more.” This master filmmaker’s latest gem is a must see.
Alan Berliner's uncanny ability to combine experimental cinema, artistic purpose, and popular appeal in compelling film essays has made him one of America's most acclaimed independent filmmakers. The New York Times has described Berliner's work as "powerful, compelling and bittersweet... full of juicy conflict and contradiction, innovative in their cinematic technique, unpredictable in their structures... Alan Berliner illustrates the power of fine art to transform life."
A recipient of Rockefeller, Guggenheim and Jerome Foundation Fellowships, Berliner has received multiple grants from the NEA, NYSCA, NYFA and in 1998, won his third career Emmy Award (he has also received six nominations) from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He was also the recipient of a Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Documentary Association in 1993. His experimental documentary films, THE SWEETEST SOUND (2001), NOBODY'S BUSINESS (1996), INTIMATE STRANGER (1991), and THE FAMILY ALBUM (1986), have been broadcast all over the world, and have received awards and prizes at many major international film festivals.
Selected retrospectives of Berliner's films have been presented at the Museum of Modern Art (NYC), the International Center of Photography (NYC) and at film festivals from Norway and Finland to England and Australia. Several of his films are routinely rented for filmmaking and film history classes at universities all across the United States, and are in the permanent collections of many film societies, festivals, libraries, colleges and museums.
THE SWEETEST SOUND, which premiered to sold-out audiences at the 2001 Berlin International Film Festival, is a serio-comic essay film exploring the power, meaning and mystery of people's names. TimoOut, London called it "an excellent film-a classic example of what eccentric, heavily authored documentary making is all about." The Austin Chronicle described it as "charming and brilliant-a beautifully constructed work in which every element is carefully considered and gracefully executed-funny and wise and provocative." HybridMagazine.com noted that, "...Berliner is on his way to becoming the film world's leading documentarian on the intricacies of ordinary life and family.' THE SWEETEST SOUND will receive its American television premiere on "P.O.V.," the highly regarded showcase for independent documentary films on PBS in June, 2001.
NOBODY'S BUSINESS is an unflinchingly honest portrait of Berliner's reclusive (and stubbornly resistant) father Oscar; a film that finds humor and pathos in the swirl of conflicts and affections that bind father and son. Since its premiere at the New York Film Festival in 1996, the film has won twelve international awards and prizes, including both the "Caligari Film Prize" and the "International Film Critics Association Prize" at the 1997 Berlin International Film Festival, the Grand Prize at the 1997 Visions Du Réel Documentary Film Festival in Nyon, Switzerland, and an award for "Innovation in Cinema" from the 1997
Festival dei Popoli in Florence, Italy. In the summer of 1997, NOBODY'S BUSINESS was selected to launch the 10th anniversary broadcast season of "P.O.V.," for which it later received an Emmy Award.
NOBODY'S BUSINESS has been shown at more than 80 festivals, museums, conferences and universities. It has been the subject of feature articles in the New York Times, New York Magazine, The Independent, and The Austin Chronicle, and has been critically acclaimed in publications ranging from The Atlanta Constitution to The Denver Post, from The Nation, to USA Today. In the December, 1996 edition of Film Comment, author Philip Lopate wrote, "I know of no one working in personal films today who can do so well what Alan Berliner does: bring dramatically alive the intense agon and ambivalence and love within families. His dazzling technical mastery of the relation between sound and image is always kept in the service of deep psychological truths."
Berliner first achieved recognition with a group of innovative avant-garde films made between 1975 and 1985. But it was his first hour-long experimental documentary film, THE FAMILY ALBUM (1986), winner of awards and prizes at film festivals around the world, which placed him at the forefront of experimental documentary filmmaking. In THE FAMILY ALBUM, which was included as part of the 1987 Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial Exhibition, Berliner used a vast collection of anonymous 16mm home movies (belonging to more than 75 different families) from the 1920s to the 1950s to create a universal yet intimate composite portrait of the American family. Hailed as "the most intriguing film" of the 1987 Edinburgh International Film Festival by critic Roger Ebert, the film was shown on PBS as part of the P.O.V. series, as well as on The BRAVO Network and The Learning Channel.
INTIMATE STRANGER (1991) explores the extraordinary life story of Berliner's maternal grandfather Joseph Cassuto, a Palestinian Jew raised in Egypt whose lifelong passion for Japan created confusion and conflict in his post-World War II Brooklyn home. Following its premiere at the 1991 New York Film Festival, it was invited to many film festivals, museums, universities and film showcases all over the world, winning several awards and prizes, including an EMMY nomination by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and a 1993 Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Documentary Association. The Washington Post called INTIMATE STRANGER "a brilliant, one of a kind film... funny, probing... so wholly original in both style and substance as to seem completely without precedent... intoxicating to watch... a spectacular high wire feat by a master."
In addition to his work in film, Berliner has also produced a substantial body of photographic, audio and video installation works. His early "para-cinematic" photographs, scrolls and collages were exhibited at the Hunter College Art Gallery, The Collective for Living Cinema, and The Munson Williams Proctor Institute in the early eighties. CINE-MATRIX (1977) part of an exhibition titled, FRAMES: Two Dimensional Work by Film Artists, held at the Hunter College Art Gallery in 1980 was reviewed in Art Forum.
In 1987, during a two month artist-in-residency at Sculpture Space in Utica, New York, Berliner premiered a sound performance work titled MICROFILM AND OTHERS. His video sculpture, LATE CITY EDITION (1993) was shown as part of a curated exhibition titled, The Concrete Signal: Video as Sculpture at Gallery 148 in October, 1993, and at the Fine
Arts Gallery at Wake Forest University in February, 1995. A selection of his audio/video installation work was included as part of the curated exhibition, Body & Technology: International Technology Art in June of 1995, held at the Dong Ah Gallery in Seoul, Korea.
AUDIOFILE (1993) and AVIARY (1993), both ground-breaking interactive audio installations were exhibited at the Walter Reade Theater Gallery at Lincoln Center and at Anthology Film Archives (Seoul/Nymax) in 1994. His first one person exhibition, FOUND SOUND: Audio & Video Installation Works featuring the premieres of CRITICAL MASS (1996) and THE RED THREAD (1996), was held at Sculpture Center Gallery in New York City in March, 1996.
Berliner's interactive video installation, GATHERING STONES (1999), based on the tradition of placing rocks on tombstones when visiting Jewish cemeteries, was commissioned for the exhibition, To The Rescue, Eight Artists in an Archive, which premiered at the International Center of Photography Midtown in New York City in February, 1999, and will travel to art museums in Miami, Houston and San Francisco. His second one person exhibition, THE ART OF WAR, held at The Stephen Gang Gallery in March, 1999, featured an innovative interactive sound/image interface using images projected from the ceiling onto a "screen" composed of 150 small white audio speakers arranged in a grid on the gallery floor.
Berliner was a recent recipient of the Storyteller Award from the 2001 Taos Talking Picture Film Festival this past April. He will be an artist in residence at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis later this year, and has been commissioned to create a large-scale interactive sculpture based on GATHERING STONES for Holocaust Museum Houston which will open in March 2002.
Berliner was born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens and lives in Manhattan. He is also currently a faculty member at the New School for Social Research in New York City, where he teaches a course entitled, "Experiments in Time, Light and Motion."